Washington subway has serious safety shortfalls, regulators say

Reuters News
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Posted: Jun 17, 2015 12:39 PM

By Ian Simpson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Washington's troubled subway system suffers from serious safety lapses and needs to improve immediately, the Federal Transit Administration said on Wednesday, six months after a tunnel fire in the U.S. capital killed one person.

The agency found 54 shortfalls at the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, or Metro, with all but 10 in its subway, the second-busiest in the United States, it said in an inspection report.

The sprawling rail-and-bus system is not unsafe but needs to emphasize implementing safety procedures that are already in place, said FTA acting Administrator Therese McMillan.

"Metro needs to improve its culture to make things safer for its workers and passengers," she told a news conference.

Among its findings, the report said there were serious lapses at the rail operations control center, which oversees maintenance and manages emergencies. Under Metro rules, controllers must be certified yearly, but no certifications have been made since 2012, she said.

Metro also is also behind on maintaining its tracks, McMillan said.

The report will be forwarded to Metro officials and will identify steps that must be followed to resolve each issue.

Metro's safety record has come under heightened scrutiny since smoke filled a tunnel between downtown Washington and the Pentagon on Jan. 12. One woman aboard a train died and more than 80 people were overcome by fumes.

Investigators have blamed the smoke on electrical arcing from the charged third rail.

Metro said in a statement it welcomed the FTA report as a guide and it would strike a balance between service and track maintenance.

"We remain committed to creating an even safer system," it said.

The FTA is also directing state agencies that oversee subway systems to inspect and audit tunnel ventilation systems. The survey was recommended by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) in light of the Washington accident.

The incident and Metro are the target of various investigations, including ones by the congressional Government Accountability Office and the NTSB.

(Editing by Lisa Lambert)